Brazil evangelicals seek drug gangs' lost souls
By Stuart Grudgings
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When Antonio Soares da Silva was still in the womb, a spirit-worshipper looked into his future and saw a drug dealer. His mother saw a man of God. Both turned out to be right.
Da Silva snorted his first cocaine at 13, ran packets of the drug at "funk" parties in Rio de Janeiro slums, and soon was hooked on drugs, women, and the gangster life.
Now, at 29, he is Pastor Ezequiel -- a charismatic preacher whose exorcisms and fiery sermons boom through Vidigal, a shantytown perched high above one of Rio's most beautiful beaches.
His journey from cocaine to Christ is no longer an unusual one in Rio's slums, where Brazil's growing evangelical Protestant churches are on the front line of the city's drug wars.
With intense competition for souls among hundreds of evangelical denominations and a belief that anyone can be "saved," pastors have reached out to the traffickers.
"There was a trafficker in the community who killed people, chopped them up and ate them -- drank their blood. Now he is a man of God," the powerfully built pastor Ezequiel, wearing a cream-colored suit over a turquoise shirt, said before a recent sermon.
"What is behind the men who kill and take drugs is the Devil -- the Devil is imprisoning them. Vidigal can't be known as place of traffic; it must be known as a place of God."
Pastors have been known to preach on stage at the wild funk parties in slums that are financed by drug gangs. Continued...